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TRANSCOM nominee: U.S. reviewing options out of Afghanistan if Russia doesn't assist

Mar. 11, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Paul Selva
Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, nominee to lead U.S. Transportation Command, said the command is on track to move all the necessary equipment and armaments from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. (Lauren Victoria Burke / The Associated Press)
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The military is reviewing alternate routes to get people and equipment out of Afghanistan, should Northern Distribution Network routes through Russia become disrupted, the administration’s pick to lead U.S. Transportation Command said Tuesday.

Twenty percent of non-combat goods travel to Afghanistan through Russia, but there are other options, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, current commander of Air Mobility Command, said at his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Lawmakers pressed Selva on the plans because of the rising unrest in Ukraine and because of possible ramifications should the U.S. respond with sanctions to Russia’s actions on the Crimean Peninsula.

“The Northern Distribution Network, part of which flows through Russia, consists of five different options for how we move cargo in and out of Afghanistan,” Selva said . “So, we’ll have to look at using other options than the over-flight or transit through Russia should the conduct in the Ukraine continue.

“If the Russians were to take action to constrain our access to the Russian segments of the Northern Distribution Network, we have other options to move that cargo in and out of Afghanistan.”

The largest concern with the route through Russia is “subsistence cargo,” which includes food and other non-combat items.

“I’m told about 20 percent of the subsistence cargoes move through that network,” Selva said. “So we’d have to use another option to get it in. We do have several options in the [network] that do not include transiting Russia.”

U.S. Transportation Command is on track to move all the necessary equipment and armaments from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Selva said. However, the military is looking at a cost-benefit analysis of what equipment should be left behind. If U.S. materiel is left behind, the command would look at possible foreign military sales.

Looking beyond Afghanistan, Selva said the future of his command faces uncertainty as global operations tempo drops.

“Once we have completed whatever retrograde operation happens in Afghanistan, whether we have a residual force or no force remaining behind, the demand signal for lift, surface and air will diminish significantly,” Selva said. “We have seen a nearly 50 percent reduction in requirement for sustainment cargo into and out of Afghanistan. ... That has an implication for our organic fleets.”

Selva was nominated on Feb. 7, and has served in his position at Air Mobility Command since November 2012 and previously served as the vice commander of Pacific Air Forces. If confirmed, he would replace Air Force Gen. William Fraser, who is expected to retire in June.

Selva shared his nomination hearing with Navy Vice Adm. Mike Rogers, who was picked to lead U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency. In that vein, Selva faced questions about the future of cyber attacks on his command.

Cyber attacks on U.S. Transportation Command doubled from 45,000 in 2011 to nearly 100,000 in 2012, committee ranking member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said.

Selva said as commander of Air Mobility Command, he took “pretty aggressive action” to secure his networks. He would push TRANSCOM to work with U.S. Cyber Command and 24th Air Force, which provides external network security, to improve defenses. He acknowledged a weakness, however, resulting from the need to connect to contractors’ networks.

“The nature of our network that ties us to commercial providers of transportation requires us to have access to the information from their networks as well,” Selva said. “And we have been working diligently with those contractors and commercial providers to secure those networks. So the number of attacks doesn’t actually equate to the number of actual intrusions and data exfiltrated, but to the number of probes and attempts to get into the network.”

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